By Ed Diokno
“The National Italian American Foundation is disturbed by the very public degradation of Italian American history that was part of the 2016 Emmy Awards that aired last Sunday night,” said NIAF President John M. Viola in a statement released today, “where Mr. Alan Yang — in accepting his award for best writing in a comedy series — compared Italian American representations in film and television to portrayals of Asian Americans, pointing out that our populations are similar in size and yet we have much more representation in film and television.
“Mr. Yang then listed what he considered to be notable representations of Italian Americans in the entertainment industry citing Goodfellas, The Godfather, and The Sopranos.
“Mr. Yang’s comments, while meant to point out the under-representation of Asian Americans in film, ended up including a reckless disregard for Italian Americans by citing films that portray Italian Americans as violent, dim-witted, and involved with organized crime — all three — and insensitive stereotypes that in no way reflect the lives of everyday Italian Americans.”
“If I had time on Sunday,” Yang responded with an Instagram post “I would’ve mentioned films like Titanic, Pulp Fiction, Raging Bull, Inception, Meet the Parents, Leaving Las Vegas, and Midnight Run, all of which star amazing Italian American actors.
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“But the point isn’t to pit groups of people against each other. I was praising what I consider to be four masterpieces of film and TV. I hope someday Asian Americans can achieve a fraction of what Italian Americans have in the world of pop culture. We’re not there yet. I love Harold and Kumar. It’s one of the only times I’ve ever seen a dude who looks like me star in a movie and even speak English fluently. But Harold and Kumar ain’t The Revenant,” said Yang. “P.S. Let’s get some more Italian American and Asian American actresses in leading roles, too.”
I agree with the NIAF statement. You shouldn’t use one group’s stereotype to argue against another group’s stereotypes.
However, what Italian Americans don’t realize, while they may decry the gangster stereotype, there have been scores of movies depicting and celebrating Italian Americans representing the wide breadth of people of Italian descent, from the examples cited by Yang in his defense to Coming to America and Moonstruck to My Cousin Vinny, Rockie and Marty to the recent Oscar nominee Brooklyn. There are perhaps hundreds of non-stereotypical portrayals in the movies and television from which people can gather a deeper understanding and appreciation of Italian Americans and their culture.
As if to underscore the point about the lack Asians in American pop culture feeding the lack of exposure to AAPI people in general, Associated Press released a bunch of photos of the cast of Masters of None and its writers at the Emmy awards show, in which they mixed up Yang with the actor Kelvin Yu.
Yup! As Yang said in his acceptance speech, we still have a long way to go.
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